Where: French Pyrénées
Milk Type: Sheep, unpasteurized
robustly nutty, buttery, lightly tangy
Made from ewes in the French Pyrénées it is one of only two French cheeses (Roquefort the other) protected by strict Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) designation (since 1980).
But Ossau Iraty is also ancient, some say one of the oldest cheeses in the western world being made by shepherds in the region for centuries. Ossau’s high fat content (50% milk fat) lends it a robust, buttery note that becomes more pronounced as it ages.
Wine pairing: Is usually a safe bet to pair a region’s cheese with its wine (though by no means a requirement). French Sauvignon Blancs or Merlots work here. But as the cheese is more of a rural, peasant tradition, I like Ossau Iraty paired with the somewhat lesser-known wines of the region like Bergerac which blend Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc etc, and the wines of neighboring Basque and Spanish regions. Think Tempranillo grapes and the wines they produce. Look also for Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca or Garnacha Tinto.
Ossau Iraty is THE classic sheep’s milk cheese. It’s a “must-try” and time after time probably regains the spot as my favorite. It’s a luminescent cheese, both in look and in epitomizing sheep milk’s radiant flavors.